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Dutch Gap - Chester, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
4.4 mls N/A N/A
Hiking Time:
3.0 hours plus a half hour for lunch
Dutch Gap Conservation Area
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Chester Weather Forecast

Park at DGCA Visitor Center. 37.37449, -77.36259

Do you live near Richmond but can’t make it to the Mountains for a quick hike? Then head to the Dutch Gap Conservation Area (DGCA) just south of Richmond for a unique hike around a James River Tidal Lagoon. There are constant views of marshes teaming with all sorts of birds. This hike is an ornithologists dream. We saw an eagle, herons, cormorants, Canada geese, ducks, red tailed hawk, etc. We also saw about 8 deer with a good size buck leading them.

This is a great hike for families with young kids due to its relative lack of elevation change and would be easy to push a stroller on. There were also many people walking their dogs. This is probably the only hike on our site that we will list as wheelchair accessible with just a little help in 1 or 2 short areas.


  • The drive to the Visitor Center parking area will lead you past a county sewage treatment plant and a large Dominion Virginia Power Plant. You will even see the Power Plant on some parts of the trail but do not let this Industrail “beast” deter you from visiting and seeing the “beauty” of this area.
  • There are many spur trails (usually out and back) to observation points throughout this hike, we did many of them. The loop back to the Visitor Center is 4.4 miles, doing most of the spur trails will push the mileage close to 6 miles. It was on the very first one where we saw a bald-eagle. To your right on the blue blazed trail beyond the fence is the Dominion Power Flyash Pond. Be sure to keep your eyes open on this hike for all sorts of wildlife. In fact, don’t forget to pack binoculars.
  • There have been reports of Vultures at Dutch Gap landing on cars and causing damage. I checked on this at the Visitor Center and it is true but it is at the Dutch Gap Boat Landing about 1 mile from the Visitor Center and has not happened at the Visitor Center parking area.

We started the hike behind the DGCA Visitor Center on the Blue-blazed trail. In 0.3 miles you will come to the Sycamore Spur trail on the left and is only 150 yards to an observation area and small floating fishing pier (there are quite a few of these piers throughout the trail) . Return to the Blue-blazed trail taking a left continuing for 0.3 miles until the Twin Rock Spur trail on the left with a short walk to an observation area/bench.

Continue on the Blue-blazed trail for 0.1 miles until the intersection of the White-blazed main loop. Stay straight at the intersection doing the main loop counter-clockwise. Ignore the next intersection which is just a shortcut to the other side of the main loop. The trail will bear hard to the left in 0.1 miles leading you to the intersection of the Horse Tail Loop in 0.2 miles. We only went to the observation point on this loop and returned back to the main white loop trail. (You could stay on the Teal-blazed Horse Tail Loop and it would meet up again with the main loop). Return to the main loop and in about 60 yards is one of the few sections that someone in a wheelchair might need a hand to go up a short hill. It is this portion of the trail where you will see the power plant straight ahead, but not for long.  Just after the hill on the left you will see the Horse Tail Loop meet the trail and soon after that the trail will bear to the left. From this point to the next intersection, Peninsula Point, is 0.6 miles. Peninsula Point has picnic tables and boats for rent in season (check at visitor center prior to the hike). If bypassing Peninsula Point, bear to the right or if returning from Peninsula Point bear to the left and continue on the main loop.

To the Oxbow Point Intersection is about 0.4 miles, there is a nice bench/observation area at the end of this spur trail. On the next portion of the trail we saw a couple of sunken barges inside the lagoon. This section of the trail seemed to be the longest as it is almost 1.3 miles until the Dog Leg Intersection.  It was on this not very wide part of the trail that we saw a buck and 7 does. The Dog Leg trail is no longer a Dog Leg trail as it just ends as you come to the Old River Channel of the James. We surprised some duck hunters at this point. The trail that was supposed to be to the left and parallel to the Channel is overgrown and I could not find it.

Back on the main loop it is only 0.1 miles to the bridge from the Dog Leg Intersection. This is the other section of the trail where someone in a wheelchair may need a hand as the ramp up to the bridge is a little steep. This channel is the main supply of water from the James River to the Lagoon. In another 0.2 miles you will come to an Intersection on the left and mentioned earlier as a shortcut, stay straight on the main loop and go 0.1 miles to an observation blind overlooking a marsh. This is to view nesting herons in the Spring time. In about 150 yards you will come to the end of the main loop trail, bear to the right and rejoin the blue blazed trail to return to the parking area in 0.6 miles.

Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Dutch Gap hike:

Hiker Reviews For The Dutch Gap Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Steve Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, October 18, 2018
My wife and I took our 9 year old boxer and 2 year old pitbull. It was a gorgeous day and the trails were wonderful. Clearly marked and maintained. This will become a weekly excursion for us.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 3, 2018
This was an excellent hike. Most weekends, I sponsor a hike for my company team. This particular weekend, I was asked to come up with something that co-workers could bring family and friends.

I do apologize that I hadn't realized the park doesn't open as early as I had expected. Plan your trip accordingly. It was a good adventure out with about 20 folks. The kids loved it. We came across deer, snakes, a variety of birds and a few stops dropped some food into the water to watch turtles and fish make an appearance.

While the beginning of the hike is a bit industrial, give it 20 minutes and you won't notice the power plant.

By: Diana Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Ok hike. Nice and flat if you have kids. Unfortunately, there is a lot of metal and concrete debris among the undergrowth. The industrial stuff definitely took away from the beauty of the place. Lots of birds for birdwatchers.

By: Jason Viper Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 4, 2017
So I've never actually "hiked" this hike, but have been back there plenty of times via boat. I think it's got some pretty scenery, lots of old rusted barges sticking out of the water, and you can glimpse a ton of wildlife - including bald eagles. If you are so inclined, bring a fishing pole as there is excellent fishing there, including MONSTER catfish. If they are running the sprayers at the plant, the water can get into the 70's in the dead of winter!

If you are parking at the boat ramp parking area, beware of vandals and buzzards (as they will eat any plastic on your car - trim, wipers, etc...)

By: Rick & Martha Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, December 27, 2015
This was a very pretty hike around the water, on a flat-ish, wide trail. We weren't on the trail but five minutes when a group of 6 deer came charging out of the underbrush not 20 yards from us, and hurtled along the fencing for 100 yards. Then, two minutes later, another group of 3 deer did likewise, and much closer to us. The trail is very well marked. The only time we were a tad confused is when we arrived at the Observation Point, where the picnic tables and canoes are. It took us a minute to figure out how to get back on the trail to continue going around the lake. Fortunately, we had this web site available to refer to. We'll definitely return in the summer to check out the birds.

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